Tuesday, February 28, 2017

More Enrico Macias Orientalia

When Gaston Ghrenassia left Algeria for France in 1961, he hoped to continue his musical career by playing the ma'louf repertoire of his master, Cheikh Raymond Leyris, in the company of his father Sylvain, who had accompanied the cheikh on violin. But French audiences greeted their performances with hostility and racism. So Gaston opted to try to make a career for himself by playing a more mainstream and acceptable genre. In Constantine, he had not only mastered ma'louf, learned through his apprenticeship of Cheikh Raymond, but he also had performed French variety music, particularly the sort of Mediterranean-inflected variety performed by the likes of Luis Mariano, Charles Aznavour and Dalida. In addition to playing with Cheikh Raymond, as a teenager Gaston joined a gypsy musical ensemble in Constantine. The band was led by a singer named Enrico, and in the group Gaston was known as “little Enrico.” While on the boat taking him into exile from Algiers to Marseille, Gaston composed a song about his sorrow over leaving Algeria, called “Adieu Mon Pays.” He recorded the song for Pathé-Marconi in 1962, adopting the recording name Enrico. He planned to use the last two syllables of his family name, Nassia, as his second name, but the Pathé-Marconi secretary with whom he spoke on the phone transcribed it incorrectly, so “Adieu Mon Pays” was released under the name Enrico Macias.

In October 1962, the song was broadcast on a national radio program focusing on the pieds noirs, the European Algerian settlers who left Algeria after it gained independence. It became an immediate sensation, selling 50,000 copies in just a few days, and Enrico Macias became the singer, in France, of the pieds noirs, who had only just left what they regarded as their “pays.”

During the course of his career from the sixties through the eighties, Enrico performed and recorded music that was frequently tinged with Andalusian sounds. On occasion, in concert, he would play ‘ud for one number, or feature belly dancers, or spotlight his father Sylvain on Andalusian violin for one song. He did not feel able to experiment in this vein a great deal, and the Andalusian element remained at the level of frills and embellishments rather than forming the musical basis for his work. Too emphatic an Arabic sound invariably incited negative reactions from French audiences. But if there were pieds noirs in the audience, they would greet Macias's use of Andalusian features (and even vocals in Arabic) with enthusiastic applause and shouts of approval.

In 1972 he put out the album À La Face de l'Humanité, which included the track, "La Fête Orientale." You can listen here. Enrico sings in French, and only adds "Arab" vocal embellishments at one point, at around 2 minutes into the song. But the instrumental opening of the song sounds like it is the start of an Arabic song, and it has this feel at the end as well. And right before Enrico shifts briefly into Arabic mode, we also hear very "Eastern" sounding ululations.

In March 1972, Enrico performed the song on television, in a quite different version, which you can see here.


The version here is twice as long as the original. And it opens with a slow, improvised introduction, known as the istikhbar or mawwal that is typical of Andalusian music. It starts with a refrain on violin from Enrico's father Sylvain Ghrenassia, some improvised oud playing from Enrico, a bit of improvisation on the qanun, and then vocals from Enrico, singing in French about the "fête oriental" but in Arabic style. The ensemble is a typical traditional Andalusian one, and the players are all dressed up in fancy "Oriental" style, seated on the floor in traditional style. The set has all the trappings of a staged "Oriental" scene as well. After the mawwal, Enrico proceeds to perform "La Fête Oriental" as he recorded it, but with the backing of an Andalusian orchestra.

The lyrics are as follows (grabbed from here). 

Alléluia,  c'est la fête orientale
Venez chez moi, je suis heureux
Laissez venir tous mes amis, tous mes parents
Et pour qu'il n'y ait pas d'oubli
Laissez la porte ouverte
Alléluia, que les foulards des femmes
Alléluia, dansent de joie


Alléluia, il faut de la musique
Car on est là pour s'amuser
Les musiciens ont dans leur cœur nos souvenirs
Et sous leurs doigts c'est le bonheur qui rythme la musique
Alléluia, suivez bien la cadence
Alléluia, des cris de joie


Alléluia que le festin commence
Tout le monde est là, n'attendez pas
Que l'on apporte les plateaux chargés de fruits
Une montagne de gâteaux, du vin et des galettes
Alléluia, c'est la fête orientale
Restez chez moi toute la nuit
Alléluia c'est la fête orientale
Alléluia toute la nuit

The lyrics could describe any kind of "Oriental" feast day, Jewish or Muslim. Note that the women are described as wearing foulards, or headscarves -- something that both Jewish and Muslims would have worn on traditional feast days.

And here is another TV appearance of Enrico on oud and his father on violin, doing another "Oriental" number. Unfortunately I'm unable to identify the song. 


A list of songs in Arabic that Enrico has performed or recorded over the years can be found here. Some are available for listening. Unfortunately the information is not very detailed. I intend to do more hunting and research.

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